Home > Fathers of Film Music > HUGO FRIEDHOFER – Fathers of Film Music, Part 9

HUGO FRIEDHOFER – Fathers of Film Music, Part 9

Hugo FriedhoferArticle by Craig Lysy

Born: 3 May 1901, San Francisco, California.
Died: 17 May 1981.

Hugo Wilhelm Friedhofer was born in San Francisco into a musical family, his father being an accomplished cellist who trained in Dresden, Germany. His musical gifts surfaced early and he began playing the cello in earnest at the age of 13. He was not fond of school and so quit at 16, obtaining work as an office boy. In his teen years both music and art competed for his affections, and it was not until the age of 18 that he finally decided to pursue music for a career. He enrolled in night classes at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco, and then later studied harmony and counterpoint at Berkeley, where he gained employment as a cellist for the People’s Symphony Orchestra.

He achieved a modicum of professional success playing with the People’s Symphony, as well as a theater orchestra, which supported his full-time musical studies, which included composition courses with Italian composer Dominico Brescia. He augmented his busy schedule with periodic work as an arranger for popular bands of the day. Most interesting was the irony that the advent of film music displaced him from his job! Talking pictures led to the rapid extinction of theater orchestras, which upended his life; these were tough times for Friedhofer, who was married and with a wife and child to support. After years of struggle with part time jobs, fortune smiled upon him and he secured employment in Hollywood as a music arranger at Fox Studios. He moved to Hollywood in 1929 and secured his first assignment, the movie “Sunny Side Up”. He supplemented his income by working as a freelancer for the next few years.

People took notice of his work ethic and talent, and he was finally hired by Warner Brothers Studios. Because of his fluency in German, the studio assigned him to work with renowned composers Max Steiner and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Throughout the 1930s he orchestrated more than 50 scores for Steiner, and 15 scores by Korngold; orchestrating skills were by all accounts the finest in the business and contributed to the success of many of Steiner and Korngold’s classics. Yet, he remained hostage in their larger than life shadows for many years, dreaming of the day when he could take the composer’s reins and write his own film scores. In 1937, thanks to Alfred Newman’s patronage, he finally obtained his break and was entrusted with his first scoring assignment for the film “The Adventures of Marco Polo”. His exotic and classic adventure score elevated the film and made a lasting impression on studio executives. Although he continued to work primarily as an orchestrator into the 1940s, the door for composer assignments had at last been breached.

In the early 1940s, thanks to Newman’s continued patronage, Friedhofer began receiving more and more composing assignments that cut across a wide swath of film genres, including the family film “My Friend Flicka” (1943), the WWII film “The Fighting Guerrillas” (1944), the romance “Belle of the Yukon” (1944) and the film noir “The Woman in the Window” (1944). In each of these projects Friedhofer managed to capture the dynamics of the film’s narrative and was a major factor in their critical success. 1945 proved to be a pivotal year for Friedhofer, one that catapulted him into the ranks of the composer elites of Hollywood. Newman, with the backing of studio executive Samuel Goldwyn, hired Friedhofer to score “The Best Years of Our Lives”, over the strenuous objections of director William Wyler, who preferred Newman himself. For the film, which spoke to challenges facing US Marines returning to civilian life, Friedhofer created a truly evocative score comprised of a multiplicity of eight themes. It proved to be a stunning triumph that resonated not only with the public at large, but also the movie industry, which honored him with a well-deserved Academy Award.

Thanks to his triumph with “The Best Years of Our Lives”, Friedhofer was finally able to secure steady employment as a tier one composer. He went on to score such diverse films as the film noir “Gilda” in 1946, the comedy “The Bishop’s Wife” in 1947 (which earned him a second Academy Award nomination), and the epic biopic “Joan of Arc” in 1948 starring Ingrid Bergman, which earned him a third Academy Award nomination.

At the age of 49 Friedhofer entered the 1950s in his prime, where we bear witness to a parade of outstanding film scores including; the outstanding and classic Western “Broken Arrow” (1950), the WWII drama “Three Came Home” (1950), the film noir “Ace in the Hole” (1951), the story of the Hiroshima bombing “Above and Beyond, which earned a fourth Academy Award nomination, the Western “Vera Cruz” (1954), the classic adventure tale of “Seven Cities of Gold” (1955), the Hemingway drama “The Sun Also Rises” (1957), and the romance “An Affair to Remember” (1957). He closed out the 1950’s with a succession of Best Score nominations; “Between Heaven and Hell” (1957), “Boy on a Dolphin” (1958) and lastly, “The Young Lions” (1959). By any measure Friedhofer had secured his legacy as one of the Hollywood greats.

In the 1960’s his output slowed as he lost the patronage of Alfred Newman, who retired from Fox as Hollywood transitioned to a new generation of composers who now moved into the forefront. Among his final assignments was his crowning achievement of the Western genre, “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961), the biopic of the famous American Indian warrior “Geronimo” (1962) and the WWII action drama “The Secret Invasion” (1964). Not to be deterred by diminished opportunities for film score assignments, Friedhofer again demonstrated his capacity to adapt to difficult times by making a successful transition to the burgeoning television market. He secured steady employment writing for series such as; Outlaws, Empire, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, I Spy, The Guns of Will Sonnett, Lancer, and My Friend Tony. As long as there was a need for music, Friedhofer would write.

He worked well into the 1970s on a final set of eclectic films, including Roger Corman’s biopic “Von Richthofen & Brown” (1971), Randall Hood’s horror thriller “Die Sister, Die!” (1972), and Paul Bartel’s dark comedy, “Private Parts” (1972). His final opus was for the television series Barnaby Jones, for which he composed two episodes. Regretfully, he died from complications of a fall at his home in Los Angeles on May 17, 1981.


Friedhofer was kindred in spirit to Korngold and Steiner, a graduate of the classic European romantic tradition, which explains why these two film score titans held him in such high regard as a trusted orchestrator for their scores. His orchestrating talents were without peer and he understood their voice, as well as the traditions they embraced; florid melodies, unabashed emotional expression and melodrama. Yet paradoxically, as a composer, Friedhofer’s own approach was more subtle, more nuanced, and never overbearing, instead preferring restraint. Unlike Steiner, he eschewed melodrama, unlike Rozsa, he did not write overtly effusive melodies with his heart on his sleeve, nor did he embrace Herrmann’s characteristic sensationalism. Friedhofer always sought to express in his scores, not the obvious or outwardly dramatic, but instead, the unspoken, the often hidden psychological drivers of the film’s narrative. This approach was very successful and elicited several directors to rehire him for their films.

When asked in an interview to expound on his craft, Friedhofer explained;

“It is not important for the audience to be aware of the technique by which music affects them, but affect them it must. Film music is absorbed, you might say, through the pores. But the listener should be aware, even subliminally, of continuity, of a certain binder that winds through the film experience. A score must relate, it must integrate.”


Friedhofer, when compared his contemporaries Steiner, Tiomkin, Newman, Waxman and Rozsa, never achieved their level of success or public affection. It was as though he was a child of a lesser god, never quite able to prove to himself or the public his worthiness, never able to gain equal stature. I believe that his extraordinary gifts as an orchestrator actually worked against him, impeding the progress of his career, a phenomenon similar to an actor who is type cast and unable to break free to explore different roles. Never the less Friedhofer did break free, and it is testimony to his indomitable spirit and talent that he was finally able to assume the mantle of composer.

Friedhofer, was greatly admired and respected by his colleagues, who loved his renowned caustic and self-deprecating wit. David Raksin relates that he once queried Friedhofer regarding his progress scoring the film “Joan of Arc”, he replied, “I’ve just started on the barbecue!” During an interview by Page Cook, the film music critic at Films in Review magazine, he was asked about his legacy, about his place in the pantheon of film score gods. Friedhofer retorted, “I am just a fake giant among real pygmies.”

Perhaps his most enduring legacy was his fight to preserve film score manuscripts and reels. During the 1970s Friedhofer, along with Miklos Rozsa, was respected as the ‘elder statesmen’ of film music. As one of the few surviving members of his generation, he willingly assumed the mantle of spokesman, often advocating for the preservation of Golden Age film scores, which had increasingly become subject to neglect and destruction by new studio executives more focused on meeting the bottom line than protecting the treasures of the past. It is poetic that by the end of the decade film score art experienced a renaissance as scholars and record companies began reconstructing Friedhofer’s orchestrations and arrangements for new recordings. Collectors like myself are indebted and thankful of his efforts to preserve this magnificent art form, for his foresight and for his wisdom.


Friedhofer received 9 Academy Awards nominations, winning one.

Academy Award Wins:

  • 1947 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – The Best Years Of Our Lives

Academy Award Nominations:

  • 1946 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – The Woman in the Window
  • 1948 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – The Bishop’s Wife
  • 1949 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – Joan of Arc
  • 1954 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – Above and Beyond
  • 1957 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – Between Heaven and Hell
  • 1958 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – Boy on a Dolphin
  • 1959 Best Music, Scoring a Dramatic or Comedy Film – The Young Lions


Friedhofer wrote music over an amazing six decades for a wide array of media including 256 movies, shorts or television episodes without credit. He also wrote as a music department composer of themes, additional music, stock music, incidental music or background music. He received credit as a primary composer for 166 movies, shorts or television episodes.

1920s and 30s:

Seven Faces (1929), Men on Call (1930), Princess and the Plumber (1930), Just Imagine (1930), The Dancers (1930), A Devil with Women (1930), Her Golden Calf (1930), Heartbreak (1931), The Yellow Ticket (1931), Skyline (1931), La Ley del Harem (1931), The Spider (1931), Transatlantic (1931), Goldie (1931), Daddy Long Legs (1931), Sherlock Holmes (1932), A Passport to Hell (1932), The Painted Woman (1932), The First Year (1932), Almost Married (1932), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932), Mystery Ranch (1932), The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932), Amateur Daddy (1932), Careless Lady (1932), After Tomorrow (1932), My Lips Betray (1933), Melodíaprohibida (1933), Paddy the Next Best Thing (1933), It’s Great to Be Alive (1933), The Man Who Dared (1933), Broadway Bad (1933), Dangerously Yours (1933), El Últimovaronsobre la Tierra (1933), Face in the Sky (1933), Second Hand Wife (1933), Dos Másuno Dos (1934), Pursued (1934), Grand Canary (1934), The World Moves On (1934), Now I’ll Tell (1934), George White’s Scandals (1934), Coming-Out Party (1934), Orient Express (1934), As Husbands Go (1934), Peter Ibbetson (1935), Navy Wife (1935), Here’s to Romance (1935), Orchids to You (1935), Dante’s Inferno (1935), Curly Top (1935), The Little Colonel (1935), White Fang (1936), Sins of Man (1936), The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Rose of the Rancho (1936), Topper Takes a Trip (1938), The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938).


The Mark of Zorro (1940), Remember the Day (1941), China Girl (1942), Prelude to War (1942), Secret Agent of Japan (1942), The Gang’s All Here (1943), Paris After Dark (1943), Wintertime (1943), My Friend Flicka (1943), They Came to Blow Up America (1943), The Fighting Guerrillas (1943), Belle of the Yukon (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944), Wing and a Prayer (1944), Home in Indiana (1944), Roger Touhy, Gangster (1944), Four Jills in a Jeep (1944), The Lodger (1944), Lifeboat (1944), Getting Gertie’s Garter (1945), Along Came Jones (1945), Brewster’s Millions (1946), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), The Jolson Story (1946), So Dark the Night (1946), The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946), Gilda (1946), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Wild Harvest (1947), Body and Soul (1947), Enchantment (1948), Joan of Arc (1948), Sealed Verdict (1948), A Song Is Born (1948), Black Bart (1948), Adventures of Casanova (1948), The Swordsman (1948), Bride of Vengeance (1949).


The Sound of Fury (1950), Two Flags West (1950), Edge of Doom (1950), Broken Arrow (1950), Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950), No Man of Her Own (1950), Guilty of Treason (1950), Three Came Home (1950), Journey Into Light (1951), Queen for a Day (1951), Ace in the Hole (1951), Cry Danger (1951), Above and Beyond (1952), Thunder in the East (1952), Face to Face (1952), Just for You (1952), Big Jim McLain (1952), Lydia Bailey (1952), The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1952), The San Francisco Story (1952), Rancho Notorious (1952), The Marrying Kind (1952), Man in the Attic (1953), Hondo (1953), Island in the Sky (1953), Plunder of the Sun (1953), Vera Cruz (1954), Musty Musketeers (1954), The Rains of Ranchipur (1955), The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), Seven Cities of Gold (1955), Soldier of Fortune (1955), Violent Saturday (1955), White Feather (1955), Between Heaven and Hell (1956), The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956), The Harder They Fall (1956), The Sun Also Rises (1957), An Affair to Remember (1957), Boy on a Dolphin (1957), Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1957), In Love and War (1958), The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), The Bravados (1958), The Young Lions (1958), Never So Few (1959), The Blue Angel (1959), This Earth Is Mine (1959), Woman Obsessed (1959).

1960s and 70s:

Homicidal (1961), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Beauty and the Beast (1962), Geronimo (1962), The Secret Invasion (1964), The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969), Von Richthofen and Brown (1971), Die Sister, Die! (1972), Private Parts (1972).


Friedhofer, unlike his peers, does not have as many scores commercially available. However, there are several that are of fine quality and worthy of your exploration. I offer the following for your consideration.

bestyearsofourlivesTHE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)

This score offers Friedhofer’s only Academy Award win and stands as his Magnum Opus. Producer Samuel Goldwyn and director William Wyler made it very clear to Friedhofer that they did not want the classic melodrama of the European Hollywood sound, instead preferring traditional ‘native’ Americana idiom. Friedhofer responded with a warm and nostalgic score, which spoke to the optimism of an America basking in the glory of its victory, despite the undercurrents of despair and struggles of her returning veterans. For his score, Friedhoffer embraced classic leitmotif writing, provided a multiplicity of themes and established a homogenious soundscape based on the triad. His music speaks perfectly to the psychological drivers of this poignant tale and stands as one of the finest scores of the Golden Age.

anaffairtorememberAN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957)

This score earned an Academy Award nomination and stands as possibly Friedhofer’s most purely unabashed romantic score. The film offers one of Hollywood’s greatest love stories and the title song, which went on to became a mega hit recorded by many artist including Frank Sinatra, perfectly capturing this sad film’s emotional core. The score is intimate, tender, and perfectly speaks to the sadness of love unfulfilled. In scene after scene we bear witness to a perfect synergy of imagery, film narrative and music. I must say that Friedhofer’s evocative music stands as one of the finest romantic scores of his career and the Golden Age.

bishopswifeTHE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947)

The score is a hidden treasure, a Christmas season delight and for me one of the finest in Friedhofer’s canon. He just provides everything you could possibly associate and wish for in a Christmas score, including traditional Christmas carols, boy’s choir, waltzes, polkas, sleigh bells and organ. His multi-thematic effort includes the aspiring Dudley’s Theme, which he emotes as a classical Baroque concerto grosso, the yearning Julia’s Theme and his stirring and joyous Miracle Theme where strings and organ join in a sublime ascent, which lifts our spirits upwards to heaven itself. This score offers enduring testimony to Friedhofer’s talent as a composer and mastery of his craft.

brokenarrowBROKEN ARROW (1950)

This was a fine multi-thematic effort, and one of Friedhofer’s best. The juxtaposition of the two primary themes in the Main Title, captures the film’s core narrative; the clash between the forces for war and peace. Most interesting was that the film was told from the Indian’s perspective; as such Friedhofer eschewed the traditional cliché cowboy references of the day, instead providing four separate Indian identities to support the film’s narrative. Foremost among the themes is the Cochise Theme, which like its namesake is muscular, war-like yet imbued with nobility. A more subtle flute carried pastoral theme is provided for Jefford’s love interest, the Indian Sonseeahray. This Western genre score has a lot of heart and I believe Friedhofer’s efforts really elevated the story-telling.

oneeyedjacksONE-EYED JACKS (1961)

This score is a late career gem and Friedhofer’s crowning achievement for Western genre films. Unlike the classic Westerns of that time, this film departs from traditional story lines where the forces of good and evil are clearly delineated, instead offering a complex psychological drama beset with moral ambiguity. The film’s sparse dialogue afforded Friedhofer considerable sequences to carry the film with his music and he responded with one of his finest efforts. Given the setting, he chose to enrich his score with a wondrous array of classical Mexican rhythms and colors. He also provided a multiplicity of fine themes that fully expressed the intensity, romance and conflict of the tale. The expansive Main Title, which features splendid interplay of his themes sets the tone and the quality of writing never relents. For me, this score affirms Friedhofer’s genius.


  1. Burlingame, Jon. Sound and Vision: 60 Years of Motion Picture Soundtracks. New York: Billboard books, 2000.
  2. Hugo Friedhofer – Wikipedia
  3. Hugo Friedhofer at the Internet Movie Database
  4. Hugo Friedhofer, The Unofficial Website http://hugofriedhofer.runmovies.eu/
  5. Hugo Friedhofer Film Music Review by David Aspinall – http://www.audiophilia.com/software/da4.htm
  6. David Raksin Remebers His Colleagues – http://www.americancomposers.org/raksin_friedhofer.htm
  7. Hugo Friedhofer Film Music Review by Robert Cummings – http://www.classical.net/music/recs/reviews/m/mpl23857a.php
  8. Hugo Firedhofer, Composer and Arranger – http://www.mfiles.co.uk/composers/Hugo-Friedhofer.htm
  9. Hugo Friedhofer by Bruce Eder – http://www.allmusic.com/artist/hugo-friedhofer-mn0000227386/biography
  10. Hugo Friedhofer by Tony Thomas – http://www.filmreference.com/Writers-and-Production-Artists-Ei-Gi/Friedhofer-Hugo.html


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  1. June 27, 2017 at 7:47 am

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